Tag Archives: Technology

Jordan Anderson, PAR Technology Corp.
Retail Food Safety Forum

The Future of Food Service

By Jordan Anderson
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Jordan Anderson, PAR Technology Corp.

The food service industry has rapidly changed since Boulanger disputably opened up his doors to the first modern restaurant in Paris over 200 years ago. While soups, sandwiches and pasta dishes continue to be served, the ever-changing landscape of this industry continues to evolve and not only provide new dishes, but innovative practices to cultivate products and introduce technological advances that ultimately enhance the consumer experience.

Localization

In attempts to reduce waste and increase visibility, grocers are looking to localize their product assortments. Whether they garner these products from within their market or a predetermined radius, they can increase traceability best practices while appealing to local shoppers. An example of this would be regional grocery chains selling beer only from local breweries or vegetables from local farms.

In executing this strategy, grocers increase sales by appealing to local shoppers while reducing produce shrink due to shorter delivery times from farm to fork. While some may argue focusing on local offerings takes away focus from more profitable national brand names, keeping your local consumers’ best interests in mind ensures their happiness and strengthens their brand loyalty.

Healthier Foods

Healthy food and beverage options continue to drive demand in grocery stores. As clean eating and heart healthy diets become the responsible practice, grocers must increase their offerings surrounding this category. Companies such as H-E-B have introduced clear labeling to signify certain products were produced without high-fructose corn syrup, while others are removing junk food offerings from checkout lines.

One way grocers are making healthy foods more appealing is by reducing the price of fresh produce by implementing shorter delivery cycles. This strategy ensures food safety, the freshness of the products, and their aesthetic value on display shelves, too. While this makes them more appealing, it also reduces the risk of product spoilage and profit loss due to the perpetual freshness of the product coming in.

Digital Coupons

While paper coupons have been the industry norm for decades, more grocers are turning to digital offerings. Wegman’s recently introduced a mobile app that allows consumers to digitally clip coupons, look up recipes, and find where products are within their stores. With the popularity of mobile devices, this trend will continue to burgeon.

The switch to digital also helps grocers strategically place products and offerings to their customer base. They can optimize sales and marketing approaches this way while discovering patterns and trends in the buying cycle. This allows them to understand their customer base while simultaneously increasing sales.

The Future of Grocery

Like most people, I enjoy eating. However, unlike most people, I actually enjoy the grocery shopping process. Typically, I go hungry while envisioning the endless possibilities of what I could make for dinner. Of course, due to my hunger, I end up purchasing copious amounts of unnecessary items while overspending in an impressive and irresponsible manner.

Due to my rare affinity for grocery shopping, the current and future landscape of the grocery market is interesting to me. I know, pathetic, but we all must have our odd interests.

Walmart Scan & Go

Walmart has developed an app that allows buyers to skip the lines and enjoy a seamless shopping experience. The app allows buyers to scan their desired goods, while keeping a running total of the goods in their cart. Once done shopping, you simply click ‘pay’ and you can check out wherever you are standing. A Walmart employee must verify your receipt before leaving the store but that only takes a moment.

You may be asking yourself, “How do they know I scanned everything?” Well, the honor system comes into play here so just because you hate grocery shopping, don’t rip off the nice people of Walmart, no matter how rich you think they are.

The app is only available at three stores currently – but keep an eye out for a location near you!

Cart MRI

Scan & Go is great for convenience, but if you’re in even more of a rush then this technology is great. The product debuted at Euroshop this past year. This technology allows for buyers to simply push their cart through a device that scans everything within the cart. This technology adds up everything, allows you to pay, and you’re out the door. No more dealing with 10-minute waits or lane closures.

Additionally, the technology provides a touchscreen on the cart that informs you about your selected items, where other products are, and gives you suggestions that compliment your shopping experience.

Sip and Stroll

While the above technologies make the buying experience more convenient—how about something that allows customers to chill out?

As I stated before, most individuals hate grocery shopping. Nevertheless, what if you could have a beer or two while shopping?

Whole Foods first adopted this burgeoning trend. The company sought out on-premise liquor licenses so their patrons could enjoy a few drinks while they shop. This allows for a more relaxed shopping experience while also giving customers insight on different or new brands they may not be familiar with.

Plus, if we’re being honest, if the drinks are good enough… the customers may be more willing to splurge.

The Future of Convenience Stores

Ah, convenience stores, pleasantly reeking of greasy hotdogs, gasoline, and cigarette fumes from the miserable 17-year old cashier outside neglecting the line. That’s generally the perception, right?

Well, not anymore! Convenience stores are now becoming a popular destination for consumers everywhere.

C-stores are beginning to seek alternatives from the slimmer margins of gas and cigarettes. In 2016, the industry saw a 9.2% drop in fuel sales, however, in-store sales increased by 3.2%.

While electric cars and public transportation can explain the precipitous drop in fuel sales—the industry took note of the increased in-store sales. Discovering potential reasons why and how to sustain them.

As the general population becomes increasingly more health conscious, convenience stores are beginning to adapt. Trending now are plant-based protein bars, dried fruits and nuts, and upscale jerky.

“Protein is the new energy,” says Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives for the National Association of Convenience Stores. The demand for grass-fed and cage-free offerings are increasing in demand. Leaving the industry to either adapt, or fall behind.

After protein inspired snacks, convenience stores are beginning to incorporate their own restaurant concepts within their stores. The Pride Stores, a small c-store chain in the greater Chicago area, hired a corporate chef and introduced two different concepts, one being taco themed. This allows for consumers to eat-in, spending more time in their stores, or carry out for their convenience.

If you haven’t noticed lately, more convenience stores are beginning to expand their offerings of beer. Craft beer and wine selections are becoming bountiful options within the aisles. The copious amount of microbreweries opening up nationwide has spiced up the masses taste buds and demand for these crafted beers has continued to steadily increase.

National and local brands allow consumers to enjoy their local favorites, or to discover a new personal favorite.

Vineyards have begun to spring up more than ever, too. While the west coast has long been notorious for their wine, the fad has begun to spread nationwide. Whether you want to try something from the west, or upstate, NY, convenience stores are now becoming a go-to for the moderate connoisseur.

Mahni Ghorashi, Clear Labs
FST Soapbox

The Future of Food Safety: A Q&A with Mars, Inc.

By Mahni Ghorashi
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Mahni Ghorashi, Clear Labs

Food safety professionals often work behind-the-scenes, developing the systems and processes that keep our food supply free of harm. While a vital job, it’s often thankless work—recognition only comes when there’s a recall or an outbreak.

And yet, the food safety industry is evolving rapidly. New threats are emerging, new technologies are being deployed, and new regulations are causing changes in our fundamental infrastructure. “Good enough” pathogen detection is no longer good enough. As a result of new pressures, the food safety lab is emerging as one of the most promising centers of innovation in the entire supply chain. It’s time that the people who are driving this wave of innovation and change receive the positive recognition for their work that they deserve.

That’s why we’re starting this Q&A series—to hear the success stories, the best practices, the hurdles and the achievements from the best in the industry. We will dive deep with the experts into some of the biggest challenges and opportunities our industry faces, focused particularly on new technology that is advancing the industry by leaps and bounds—from blockchain to NGS to machine learning. As this series evolves, we hope that readers will be informed and inspired by what the future holds.

For our first interview, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bob Baker, corporate food safety science and capability director at Mars, Inc.. Bob leads the corporate food safety science strategy for Mars, Incorporated and provides leadership and consultation on food safety capability development and current and future challenges impacting global food security. Prior to his current role, Bob was responsible for the design, construction and leadership of the Mars Global Food Safety Center in Beijing, China.

Mahni Ghorashi: What are the biggest risks to our food safety infrastructure in 2018? What’s keeping you up at night?

Bob Baker: Food safety risks are increasing at an unprecedented rate, with new threats and hazards constantly emerging, changes in agricultural practices and food production, and the environment. The globalization of trade means that an issue in one part of the world often impacts the global supply chain.

To ensure safer food for all, the identification and isolation of potential and developing issues needs to happen at a much faster pace. At Mars, we believe industry has a crucial role to play in helping all stakeholders in the food supply chain identify risks and solutions, but no entity can do this alone. That’s why we have advocated for a new approach to food safety, one rooted in knowledge sharing and collaboration. That’s why we launched our Global Food Safety Center (GFSC) in 2015.

GFSC is conducting original research and collaborating in a number of areas that we see as critical—mycotoxin management, rapid detection and identification of pathogens, raw material and product authenticity, operational food safety optimization and transforming food safety through data integration.

Although we see improvements in some areas, some of them are becoming more complex. Mycotoxins are a prime example of that. Food fraud is another area of growing concern, and addressing that is going to take a focus on technology, regulation and enforcement and a number of other areas to deliver transparency, to verify sourcing, and ultimately ensure that customers and consumers are purchasing and consuming safe food.

Ghorashi: What are you most excited about? What’s changing in a good way in the food safety sector?

Baker: What’s encouraging is we’re seeing is a willingness to share information. At Mars we often bring together world experts from across the globe to focus on food safety challenges. We continue to see great levels of knowledge sharing and collaboration.

There are also new tools and new technologies being developed and applied. Something we’re excited about is a trial of portable ‘in-field’ DNA sequencing technology on one of our production lines in China. This is an approach that could, with automated sampling, reduce test times.

We’re also excited about the IBM-Mars Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain—early signs have been very encouraging. This is an approach that could change the nature of food safety management, taking us from testing for a specific pathogen, to a situation where we could map the entire makeup of an environment and predict food safety issues based on changes within that environment.

Ghorashi: If you take a look at the homepage of any of the food safety trade publications, all you see is recall after recall. Are transparency and technological advancement bringing more risks to light, and are things generally trending towards improvement?

Baker: At Mars, quality is our first principle and we take it seriously—if we believe that a recall needs to be made in order to ensure the safety of our consumers then we will do it. We also share lessons from recalls across our business to ensure that we learn from every experience.

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a safe place for businesses to share such insights with each other. So although we are seeing more collaboration in the field of food safety generally, critical knowledge and experience from recalls is not being shared more broadly which may be having an impact.

Regarding the role of technological advancement, the hope is that as better tools and more advanced technology become available, it will be easier to pinpoint issues in the food supply chain much more effectively and much earlier than before which can only be a good thing.

Ghorashi: Do you see 2018 as the year when NGS technologies will find widespread adoption for food-safety testing applications? What can government and industry do to help accelerate adoption?

Baker: Next-generation sequencing has a lot of potential, but it may take time to be adopted fully.

We are very pleased to see the U.S. government continue to view food safety as a priority. The FDA and the CDC are already moving from single-cell cultures and single genes to mixed genomics and metagenomics. At Mars, we see metagenomics as the future of food safety because it may help identify sentinels of food safety and predict potential issues through microbiome shifts.

The key to the development and adoption of any successful technology is sharing knowledge so that all parties from the government, industry and NGOs can build on it. Early results from the IBM-Mars Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain have been encouraging and we are actively sharing these initial insights via publications and scientific forums.

Ghorashi: What are some new technology processes on the horizon for 2018, and where should industry and government be investing its time and resources?

Baker: Food safety challenges are increasing, and we need to collaborate and share insights if we are to ensure safe food.

One major area is informatics and how we can enable better application of data mining, more applied bioinformatics and statistics. How can key players –regulators, industry, NGOs—get together and share data? How do you better mine data to move to a predictive model? This is an area that could benefit from a more focused approach between government and industry.

Ghorashi: What is your #1 goal for the industry in 2018? Fewer recalls? New tech implementation? Better regulatory oversight?

Baker: We’d like to see progress in all of the above, and we will continue to work with a range of stakeholders to move the needle on food safety.

That said, the food safety challenges facing us all are complex and evolving. Water and environmental contaminants are areas that industry and regulators are also looking at, but all of these challenges will take time to address. It’s about capturing and ensuring visibility to the right insights and prioritizing key challenges that we can tackle together through collaboration and knowledge sharing.

Jordan Anderson, PAR Technology Corp.
FST Soapbox

Advocate for Change to Establish a Food Safety Culture

By Jordan Anderson
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Jordan Anderson, PAR Technology Corp.

Many times food companies will simply say, “We have to change our culture” or “We’ve always done things this way”, but this attitude will not remedy potential outbreaks or help develop food safety protocols.

As author and businessman Andy Grove once said, “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.” This statement could not apply more to the food service and manufacturing industry.

The first step to change is convincing your organization from the top down to buy in; getting your executive team to accept the cultural change from manual paper-based approaches to digital food safety is paramount.

Common objections will be the investment and positive record of accomplishment. Taking a proactive and preventative approach to everyday food safety compliance will have a positive ROI over time while ensuring the utmost brand protection.

Presenting the potential damages of being linked to a foodborne outbreak is a great place to start. It typically will open the eyes and slightly intimidate each audience member. After all, executives and board members do not like to hear “profit loss”, “stock plunge”, and “tainted brand image”.

While this can all seem overwhelming, it does not have to be. Preparing a strategy and evaluating the processes needed to fulfill this goal will help alleviate the red tape to get this off the ground.

However, before we prepare a strategy, it is important to understand the basic premise behind food safety and how technology can enhance it.

In essence, food safety fundamentally revolves around individual human behavior. Human behavior in turn, is largely driven by culture. In order to successfully develop a food safety culture, an operation must possess impeccable leadership and incorporate the highest standards of food safety.

Most notably, the HACCP plan and individual processes created are a reflection of the human behavior that shapes and molds the culture of an organization. In large organizations, the challenges are often compounded by an increased number of locations and stakeholders (employees, suppliers, customers, etc.) Within these operations, food safety culture and human behavior can potentially become compromised due to the nature of the organization, or attitude and work ethic of the stakeholders.

Technology can assist in the development and maintenance of larger food safety cultures through the use of extensive and dynamic procedures. Human behavior can be shaped by the resources available in today’s food safety tool box. We can now overcome the arduous “pencil whipping” of safety checklists via handheld, wireless and cloud-based technologies. Such technologies are ubiquitous today in the form of apps downloaded from the internet, cell phones, reporting platforms and omnipresent communications.

History has shown that in challenged cultures, individuals often behave as though they are not a part of the whole, and operate as one, rather than as a team that is linked together under one vision and shared effort. However, during the processing, handling and storage of food, we need all stakeholders to act as a collective operation and function as one. The growing adoption of technology is the fundamental turning point that can help drive human behavior and food safety culture in a positive direction.

The introduction of FSMA has brought both challenges and opportunities to the food safety industry—the requirement to document and record actions of a larger food safety plan is one of them. Conceptually speaking, you are only as good as your records say you are. In this context, we are faced with both the challenge of maintaining a positive and efficient food safety culture, in addition to the burden of increased regulatory compliance.

However, FSMA and the innovative technological era have guided the industry to a crossroads of sorts. I suggest embracing the FSMA mentality and implementing food safety technology into your operations. This will not only protect and preserve your organization, but perhaps more importantly, it will define your food safety culture, and implement a positive change into your brand.

Steven Burton, Icicle Technologies
FST Soapbox

Automation Is Happening—Don’t Miss The Boat

By Steven Burton
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Steven Burton, Icicle Technologies

Successful businesses move fast. They stay ahead of their competition by keeping their eye on the newest and most innovative emerging technologies. Failure to embrace the newest, fastest means of production and communication allows other businesses to muscle ahead of slow-to-change competitors, especially in the food industry. This is why embracing automation—even if it requires a commitment from you and your whole organization — is absolutely necessary for every food company.

Guarantee Growth and Compliance with the Internet of Things

The innovation at the forefront of automation technology is the Internet of Things (IoT): Multiple devices interconnected to monitor, communicate and control in real time. Today, a farmer can monitor a crop located in Australia from North America. Ingredients from anywhere in the world can be brought together in a matter of days and distributed just as quickly. Agricultural robots that reduce the risk of contamination and food safety expectations have risen as a result. As exciting as it is to be a part of a constantly innovating food industry, it’s also becoming more challenging to keep up and adapt.

It’s also becoming more necessary. Regulatory agencies are working to keep pace with technological innovations. The standards of food safety—more global than ever—have grown in complexity and will continue to grow as improved, real-time monitoring of products and facilities extends into every type and size of food production company. Properly planned and applied food safety programs are vital to ensuring that globally sourced ingredients and production facilities adhere to regulations to avoid the consequences of failed audits and expensive recalls.

Even for those on top of their regulatory requirements, IoT and other automation technologies are friends, not foes. Automation means that preparation for audits and inspections is reduced to bare minimum, eliminating the need for binders, spreadsheets and months of prep work. Furthermore, one of the greatest challenges of today’s food chain is ensuring not only your own compliance, but the compliance of your vendors. Dealing with hundreds or thousands of incoming ingredients and other materials at any given time is a massive undertaking, let alone dealing with vendor certifications. Integrated, automated systems for food production management streamlines processes and communication and reduces the risk of error and recall throughout the supply chain.

Don’t Be Paralyzed by the F-word: Fear

It is clear to see that staying competitive and staying in business in an interconnected world is possible only if the newest technology is embraced. Why are some companies reluctant to adapt, even when they know it is crucial to a successful future?

Some fear that their managers and employees may not adapt, that their functioning programs already in place may be interrupted, and that ever-present fear of a price tag.

To alleviate these fears and embrace the power of the future, it is vital that the company’s new automation and IoT utilize a software that is:

  • User-friendly so that employees, new or existing, can hit the ground running
  • Capable of building upon an existing food safety program and continue its success
  • Able to improve existing food safety programs to ensure updated compliance
  • Cost-effective and a good business decision when compared to the cost of manpower and recalls

One of the most common reasons a company chooses not to implement a new technology concerns the last point: Cost. To maximize the benefit of automation and IoT, expenses like laptops, tablets and phones are advisable in addition to software. The cost of the software itself when there is a paper or spreadsheet system that is working may seem unnecessary—after all, why buy a telephone when the telegrams are working just fine? In the high-speed world we now live in, a low-speed business approach is fatal.

There is good news when it comes to automation adoption: In response to the growing need for technology and the reluctance of companies to take on the expense, new incentives are being put in place in order support businesses and keep a country’s economy competitive. For example, the U.S. Tax Cuts and Job Act of 2017 allow write-offs of new automation technology in the first year of purchase, vastly reducing the initial cost impact of implementing automation technologies. Many state and provincial governments provide grants for updating technology to improve safety and traceability.

Automation Will Feed the World

Technology and automation in agriculture and food production make a company competitive, but it is also an unavoidable requirement going forward. Looking at the big picture, it’s also necessary to meet the demands of a booming global population. Food is, in many ways, the most essential industry to human life.

In The Future of Food: Food Production, Innovation, and Technology, authors David B. Schmidt and Kimberly Reed say it clearly:

“Each U.S. farmer feeds more people worldwide than ever before, at 155 people per farmer. In 1960, that number was 25.8 people. By 2050, the same farmer will need to feed 232 people… With finite resources, it will take innovation and a variety of technologies to meet the world’s food demand. This includes using new technologies. At every step of the journey from farm to fork, technology is helping us produce a safe, abundant, sustainable, and nutritious food supply.”

It took centuries for the writing of letters to be replaced by telegrams. It took only 130 years from the invention of telegrams to the use of email. A farmer with a shovel is now a robot, with the agricultural robot market expected to increase by more than fivefold to $12.8 billion over six years. 94% of packaging operations use robotic technology today. A recent survey found that half of food companies interviewed plan to increase their use of automation in the next two years.

Where will food production be in 2020? And where will your company be in that near future?

Mahni Ghorashi, Clear Labs
In the Food Lab

The Food Safety Testing Lab as Profit Center

By Mahni Ghorashi
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Mahni Ghorashi, Clear Labs

It’s not that the industry has been more reluctant than others to embrace change; rather, the forces that will drive the food’s big data revolution have but recently come to bear.

Regulation is now playing a role. FSMA mandates that the industry embrace proactive food safety measures. That means higher testing volumes. Higher testing volumes means more data.

At the same time, new technologies like next-generation sequencing (NGS) are beginning to find wide-scale adoption in food-safety testing. And NGS technologies generate a lot of data—so much so that the food safety lab will soon emerge as the epicenter of the food industry’s big data revolution. As a result, the microbiology lab, a cost center, will soon emerge as one the industry’s most surprising profit centers.

A Familiar Trend

This shift may be unprecedented in food, but plenty of other industries touched by a technological transformation have undergone a similar change, flipping the switch from overhead to revenue generation.

Take the IT department, for instance. The debate about IT departments being a cost or profit center has been ongoing for many years. If data centers had simply kept doing what they have done in the past—data processing, enterprise resource planning, desktop applications, help desk—maintaining an IT department would have remained a cost center.

But things look quite different today. Companies in today’s fast-changing business environment depend on their IT departments to generate value. Now and for the foreseeable future, the IT department is on the hook to provide companies with a strategic advantage and to create new revenue opportunities.

Netflix, for example, recently estimated the value of their recommenders and personalization engines at $1 billion per year by quadrupling their effective catalog and dramatically increasing customer engagement and reducing churn.

Another great example are the call centers of customer support departments. For most of their history, call centers generated incredibly small margins or were outright cost centers.

Now, call centers armed with AI and chatbots are a source of valuable customer insights and are a treasure trove of many brands’ most valuable data. This data can be used to fuel upsells, inform future product development, enhance brand loyalty, and increase market share.

Take Amtrak as a prime example. When the commuter railway implemented natural language chatbots on their booking site, they generated 30% more revenue per booking, saved $1 million in customer service email costs, and experienced an 8X return on investment.

These types of returns are not out of reach for the food industry.

The Food Data Revolution Starts in the Lab

The microbiology lab will be the gravitational center of big data in the food industry. Millions of food samples flow in and out of these labs every hour and more and more samples are being tested each year. In 2016 the global food microbiology market totaled 1.14 billion tests—up 15% from 2013.1

I’d argue that the food-testing lab is the biggest data generator in the entire supply chain. These labs are not only collecting molecular data about raw and processed foods but also important inventory management information like lot numbers, brand names and supplier information, to name a few.

As technologies like NGS come online, the data these labs collect will increase exponentially.
NGS platforms have dramatically reduced turnaround times and achieve higher levels of accuracy and specificity than other sequencing platforms. Unlike most PCR and ELISA-based testing techniques, which can only generate binary answers, NGS platforms generate millions of data points with each run. Two hundred or more samples can be processed simultaneously at up to 25 million reads per sample.
With a single test, labs are able to gather information about a sample’s authenticity (is the food what the label says it is?); provenance (is the food from where it is supposed to be from?); adulterants (are there ingredients that aren’t supposed to be there?); and pathogen risk.

The food industry is well aware that food safety testing programs are already a worthwhile investment. Given the enormous human and financial costs of food recalls, a robust food-safety testing system is the best insurance policy any food brand can buy.

The brands that understand how to leverage the data that microbiology labs produce in ever larger quantities will be in a position to transform the cost of this insurance policy into new revenue streams.

Digitizing the Food Supply Chain

It’s clear that the food lab will generate massive amounts of data in the future, and it’s easy to see that this data will have value, but how, exactly, can food brands turn their data into revenue streams?

The real magic starts to happen when we can combine and correlate the trillions of data points we’re gathering from new forms of testing like NGS, with data already being collected, whether for inventory management, supply chain management, storage and environmental conditions, downstream sales data, or other forms of testing for additives and contaminant like pH, antibiotics, heavy metals and color additives.

When a food brand has all of this data at their fingertips, they can start to feed the data through an artificial intelligence platform that can find patterns and trends in the data. The possibilities are endless, but some insights you could imagine are:

  • When I procure raw ingredient A from supplier B and distributors X, Y, and Z, I consistently record higher-than-average rates of contamination.
  • Over the course of a fiscal year Supplier A’s product, while a higher cost per pound, actually increases my margin because, on average, it confers a greater nutritional value than the supplier B’s product.
  • A rare pathogen strain is emerging from suppliers who used the same manufacturing plant in Arizona.

Based on this information about suppliers, food brands can optimize their supplier relationships, decrease the risk associated with new suppliers, and prevent potential outbreaks from rare or emerging pathogen threats.

But clearly the real promise for revenue generation is in leveraging food data to inform R&D, and creating a tighter food safety testing and product development feedback loop.

The opportunity to develop new products based on insights generated in the microbiology lab are profound. This is where the upside lives.

For instance, brands could correlate shelf life with a particular ingredient or additive to find new ways of storing food longer. We can leverage data collected across a product line or multiple product lines to create new ingredient profiles that find substitutes for or eliminate unhealthy additives like corn syrup.

One of the areas I’m most excited about is personalized nutrition. With microbiome data collected during routine testing, we could develop probiotics and prebiotics that promote healthy gut flora, and eventually are even tailored to the unique genetic profile of individual shoppers. The holistic wellness crowd has always claimed that food is medicine; with predictive bioinformatic models and precise microbiome profiles, we can back up that claim scientifically for the first time.

Insights at Scale

Right now, much of the insight to be gained from unused food safety testing data requires the expertise of highly specialized bioinformaticians. We haven’t yet standardized bioinformatic algorithms and pipelines—that work is foundational to building the food genomics platforms of the future.

In the near future these food genomics platforms will leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to automate bioinformatic workflows, dramatically increasing our ability to analyze enormous bodies of data and identify macro-level trends. Imagine the insights we could gain when we combine trillions of genomic data points from each phase in the food safety testing process—from routine pathogen testing to environmental monitoring to strain typing.

We’re not there yet, but the technology is not far off. And while the path to adoption will surely have its fair share of twists and turns, it’s clear that the business functions of food safety testing labs and R&D departments will grow to be more closely integrated than ever before.

In this respect the success of any food safety program will depend—as it always has—not just on the technology deployed in labs, but on how food brands operate. In the food industry, where low margins are the norm, brands have long depended on efficiently managed operations and superb leadership to remain competitive. I’m confident that given the quality and depth of its human resources, the food industry will be prove more successful than most in harnessing the power of big data in ways that truly benefit consumers.

The big data revolution in food will begin in the microbiology lab, but it will have its most profound impact at the kitchen table.

References

  1. Ferguson, B. (February/March 2017). “A Look at the Microbiology Testing Market.” Food Safety Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/magazine-archive1/februarymarch-2017/a-look-at-the-microbiology-testing-market/.
Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

How Automation Benefits the Food and Beverage Industry

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

During seasonal volume and demand peaks in the food and beverage industry, common practice is to increase labor and mobile equipment supplies temporarily. While this works great for small- to medium-sized businesses even in the current landscape, it’s not ideal for larger teams. This is primarily due to the evolution of technology, especially in the automation sector.

Adding more labor and machines can help increase volume, but it comes with a sizeable cost, one that could be shaved with the right process and system updates. As one might expect, adopting advanced automation systems, robotics and processes that can be controlled via machinery or software is the answer. Believe it or not, these systems can be made to work alongside and improve performance of existing laborers and teams.

In fact, automation is taking many industries by storm, and it’s about time food and beverage companies climbed aboard. Automotive, construction and healthcare are just three examples of industries already being disrupted by automation and AI.

But how is the technology being adopted or implemented in the food industry, and how will companies benefit from incorporating such systems?

Better Quality Control

Along the food and beverage supply chain, there are so many involved processes, workers and touchpoints that it can be difficult to not only keep track of food, but also to monitor its quality. As you know, quality is of incredible importance in the industry. You don’t want faulty or contaminated foods entering the market because it can be detrimental. Food must always remain traceable and safe, and it’s difficult to guarantee a system that has so many working cogs.

Automation, however, can change that completely. With the appropriate systems, defects and issues can be noticed much earlier in the supply chain. By detecting problems during packaging or processing, you can cut down on the total number of problematic goods that enter the market. Better yet, you can accurately identify when and where those problems are coming from and remedy the issue for improved performance in the future. If something along your supply chain is the culprit, automation will help you hone in.

Eliminating contamination can be controlled — and achieved — by deploying the appropriate cooling and air compressor systems. However, that also means understanding where this hardware must be utilized for maximum reliability. Automation and analytics systems can be helpful in discerning this information, better protecting foods and goods along the chain.

It’s not a pipe dream, either — systems are already being adopted and implemented to achieve such a thing.

End-To-End Traceability

While we touched on the idea of traceability a little in the point above, it’s the lion’s share that’s really going to make a difference. Automation and modern analytics tools can be deployed to track products and goods from inception to fulfillment. Because the systems in question are designed to track and monitor on their own with little to no input, you can tap in anywhere along the chain to seek the information you need.

Have a contaminated shipment that was discovered too late? You can use the modern analytics and automation tools at your disposal to find exactly where they are shipped or headed. This way you can head off a massive health problem before it even starts.

This, in turn, can help alleviate compliance costs and stressors, as well as improve the overall performance of the supply chain and various key processes. You could, for example, see how long a particular stop or touchpoint along the supply chain is taking and use the information provided to speed up performance.

End-to-end traceability and all the data that comes with it is about more than just watching where food comes from, where it is handled and where it goes. You can use the data provided to build an accurate profile and predictive system for future gains.

Improved Worker Safety

Automation systems, AI and modern robotics are often used to control rote, repetitive and sometimes even dangerous tasks. In this way, you can save human laborers from the dangers of a particular activity or even the monotony of busy work. It frees them up to handle more important demands, which is another benefit.

Of course, increased safety and protection for your loyal workforce can also work to alleviate operation or maintenance costs in the long run. It can lead to faster and more widespread adoption of new standards and regulations for your workforce at large as well. Traditionally, such a change might require additional training, new equipment or even better protection for your workers.

In the case of automation, you can simply update the existing hardware and software to be compliant and save the trouble of maintaining everything else, such as updating safety gear for your workers, which would no longer be necessary.

Efficiency Boost

It’s no secret that when deployed and developed properly, a machine or automation system can perform work faster and better than human laborers, at least in some cases. A machine never tires, never gets bored and can never slack off—unless it has a malfunction. That’s not to say modern technologies will be used to replace workers outright, but instead, they might be deployed alongside them to help them work faster, better and safer.

Take Amazon, for instance, which has deployed an army of AI and automation robots inside their warehouses to improve the efficiency of their order fulfillment process. It has the added benefit of speeding up the entire system, so customers get their items faster. It also improves safety and performance for the workers, effectively eliminating unsafe tasks or rote work.

Automation can provide benefits across the board for the food and beverage industry. It will be interesting to see how technological developments unfold.

Randy Fields, Repositrak
FST Soapbox

Technology’s Role In The Future Of Food Safety

By Randy Fields
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Randy Fields, Repositrak

As we have all read in the media, when a food safety emergency occurs, a company’s reputation stands to take a significant hit that may be unrecoverable. This phenomenon isn’t going away soon, nor are compliance requirements that pose a threat to the personal freedom of executives. If these aren’t enough reasons to get busy automating your food safety programs, read on.

Randy Fields will be speaking as part of a panel of experts during the Food Safety: Past, Present & Future Plenary Session during the Food Safety Consortium, November 29th at 4:00pm.

The trends toward social and health-related product claims, like organic, the ‘free-froms’ and locally-grown, have had the impact of adding dozens if not hundreds of new suppliers to a retailer’s procurement list. And, it’s important to note, that these generally smaller suppliers are just now approaching their compliance deadlines for FSMA, and if they are very small, still have another year. New trends appear every year, and they will compound the challenge for retailers and wholesalers of knowing exactly who all of their suppliers are, which in turn will worsen compliance issues.

Our studies show that at least 12% of documents that certify organic, ‘free-froms’ and other product label claims have some level of discrepancy or inaccuracy making them invalid, and rendering the systems that rely on vendor self-disclosure near useless. With sales expected to skyrocket within these categories during the next few years, companies need to leverage technology to protect the supply chain, and consider having the system hold purchase orders generated for vendors who are not compliant with requirements.

An alternative is to have the system add a compliance fee to the purchase order that escalates over time or swiftly replace suppliers if they are not willing or not able to comply. That also speeds compliance as news travels quickly if there is a hard-hitting consequence for non-compliance. Either way, it’s important to be able to substantiate any claims to the consumer, since if those assertions are deemed unreliable, retailers and their suppliers risk a breach in consumer confidence and will suffer economically when shoppers turn away from them at the shelf.

And while retailers and wholesalers have begun to turn the Titanic on regulatory and business compliance, they need to continue to diligently find the risks in their supply chain, working even more aggressively to automate their current food safety and quality programs using new technology and procedures. Otherwise, their reputation and their existence are in jeopardy.

Cloud-based compliance management solutions that help retailers, wholesalers and suppliers meet the new food safety requirements can be configured to manage documentation requirements by supplier type vs. requiring the same documents from all suppliers. These systems also go beyond just storing digital copies of documents, and actually manage any form of compliance by reading inside the document to confirm it meets requirements. The benefits of these compliance management tools extend to streamlining new vendor approvals, which can save time and enable the redeployment of resources to more productive business-building activities.

Make no mistake: business and regulatory compliance will continue to be a focal point in the future. This includes addressing potential safety, certification and quality challenges throughout the extended supply chain as nearly one-third of all recalls are due to ingredient suppliers. We believe that in less than three years, retailers will require supply chain visibility from the shelf all the way back to “dirt”. It’s been proven too risky not to have that kind of visibility for ultimately everyone’s customer – the consumer. And now technology companies are on the hook to deliver it.

Brendan McCahill

Four Ways Technology Can Ease The Burden Of New FSVP Compliance Regulations

By Brendan McCahill
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Brendan McCahill

What if it was possible for importers, or the customs broker that imports food into the U.S. on behalf of shippers, to stop salmonella-tainted food before it arrives in the hands of a consumer? While there are assorted systems in place to prevent contamination, often times, grocery stores and other businesses are unable to track the supply chain of foreign food importers, leaving customers blind to the origin of a product.

Descartes FSVP InfographicThe U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is working to address this issue with the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP). The new program makes importers responsible for better tracking hazards, identifying their suppliers and ensuring that their food is compliant with processes that meet the FDA’s standards for preventive controls and safety.

On the surface, this visibility seems like a great benefit to both consumers and businesses. But what will it mean for importers as they try and keep up with reporting requests and new regulations?

To prepare businesses for the continuing list of FSVP regulations that must be implemented by 2019, here are four ways in which technology will ease the burden and make the food industry’s supply chain even stronger.

1. Gain a holistic view of the supply chain

For navigating FSVP specifically, technology provides food importers with an efficient way to identify and better trace a supplier network, as well as and a quick and easy way to locate D&B D-U-N-S® Numbers*. For importer self-filers and customs brokers, similar solutions enable them to streamline techniques to transmit data to U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) in the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) as their goods move across borders, as well as to store details, such as D&B D-U-N-S Numbers, Harmonized System (HS) codes and more.

Ultimately, food importers and customs brokers that enlist the expertise of one technology provider can better prepare for FSVP compliance. While piecing together a technology solution using multiple logistics technology providers may work in the short term, a forward-looking, compliance-centric approach that aligns with future regulations must be adopted – one that gives a holistic view of the supply chain via one service provider.

2. Identify and better trace the supplier network

Supplier verification is an additional area of FSVP whereby suppliers must undergo periodic review and approval, and must be identified in order to perform an effective supplier hazard analysis and evaluation. Accurately identifying suppliers is a highly complex task due to intricate supply chains, compound food formulations and the number of SKUs in a product line. Plus, a supplier ecosystem evolves over time for many reasons, such as changing cost and consumer demand. Simply put, managing a complex supplier network can be a drain on resources and costly. Luckily, technology can help.

Logistics solutions that feature periodic updates that adapt to changing supply chains can help food importers better target suppliers to ensure regulations are followed. It can also help focus on suppliers with higher shipment volumes to optimize data management and prioritize compliance responsibilities.

In the event a food code is subject to FSVP, customs brokers are required to input the importers’ name, mailing address, email address and D-U-N-S Number. Because the FDA’s consumer protection function is dependent on the entry process, brokers are aware of the added scrutiny shipments subjected to FSVP-related information will be under, especially if any of the above information is noted as Unknown (UKN). Logistics technology can help automate this process and ease custom entries, booking, security filings and more.

3. Streamline techniques to transmit important data

Transmitting data to the CBP as goods move across borders can be challenging in its own right. Basic customs issues include import/entry process, tariff classification, valuation and duty assessment.

Innovative technology solutions can help businesses go beyond the bare minimum to improve the speed and accuracy of submitting entry and Partner Government Agency (PGA) data to CBP. Users can receive and react to responses and customs status messages by exception. Proactive alert functionality can notify users of actionable items including rejections, intensive exams, requests for electronic invoices, Temporary Importation Bonds (TIB) expiration notices and more. On-demand solutions also enable brokers and forwarders the ability to run complex international operations more efficiently.

4. Dedicate D&B D-U-N-S numbers for imported food product

The D&B D-U-N-S Number was selected by the FDA as the recording system to identify importers by a common reference system. The FSVP regulation indicates that a D-U-N-S Number must be provided by an importer for each line entry of food product imported into the U.S.

Today’s complex food industry means importers often work with an extensive ecosystem of subsidiaries, affiliates and Doing Business As (DBA) divisions. To comply with FSVP, technology can help quickly locate the D&B unique identifier for each member of the network, and streamline the complicated process of managing each line entry of food product offered for importation into the U.S.

A tech-driven pathway forward

There is no doubt that the new FSVP regulation is complex. U.S. food importers are now responsible for ensuring compliance in an effort to improve the safety of food entering the U.S. This will require food importers to fully understand the regulation on a practical level and react accordingly, using technology to its fullest.

Leading businesses should consider the FSVP regulation as an opportunity to look forward and prepare. With the right logistics technology and processes in place, organizations can improve their readiness to enable compliance, improve data management and execute a holistic regulatory strategy to meet the new stringent requirements.

* D&B D-U-N-S Numbers are proprietary to D&B, are licensed from D&B and are for internal use only. 
D-U-N-S is a registered trademark of D&B.

FoodSafetyTech's Food Safety Training Calendar

FoodSafetyTech Introduces The Food Safety Training Calendar

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FoodSafetyTech's Food Safety Training Calendar

FoodSafetyTech introduces the industry’s only Food Safety Training Calendar. This calendar is a comprehensive, user-friendly tool that will become invaluable for food industry professionals searching for training courses.

“The calendar is searchable by region, date and category,” says Rick Biros, President of Innovative Publishing Group. “Our primary reason to bring this to the marketplace is to help companies with the daunting task of finding training courses that meet specific criteria, such as the location, topic or timing.”

Calendar categories include:

  • Food Fraud & Food Defense
  • FSMA | PCQI | FSPCA | FSVP
  • GFSI Standards (BRC, FSSC 22000, SQF)
  • General Food Safety
  • Food Science
  • ISO Standards
  • Good Manufacturing Practices
  • HACCP | HARPC
  • Retail & Hospitality
  • Sanitation | Hygiene | Cleaning

Visit the calendar today at www.foodsafetytech.com/trainingcalendar.

If your organization is interested in listing courses in the calendar, please contact Marc Spector at 516-270-5344 or mspector@innovativepublishing.net.

Michael Taylor FDA

Food Safety Over Past 25 Years: ‘Everything Has Changed’

By Maria Fontanazza
1 Comment
Michael Taylor FDA

The effect that the 1993 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak had on the food industry was tremendous. Responsible for more than 600 illnesses and the deaths of four children, the outbreak led to significant changes in the industry’s approach to food safety. “[It] drove a shift in food safety that many had been working toward for years,” said Rima Khabbaz, M.D., acting deputy director for infectious diseases at CDC during the “We Were There” CDC lecture series, adding that the focus moved to food suppliers and how they could make their products safer. “The outbreak drove a paradigm shift that opened the door to food safety,” said Patricia Griffin, M.D., chief of the CDC’s enteric diseases epidemiology branch during the lecture.

Deirdre Schlunegger and Michael Taylor
Deirdre Schlunegger, CEO of Stop Foodborne Illness, and Michael Taylor at Stop event celebrating Food Safety Heroes during the 2015 Food Safety Consortium.

Within a few years, several actions and initiatives paved the way for notable progress. In 1994, Mike Taylor, who was administrator of USDA’s FSIS at the time, made a speech that “shocked and outraged the industry,” said Griffin, where he stated, “we consider raw ground beef that is contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 to be adulterated within the meaning of the Federal Meat Inspection Act.” From there, the USDA worked on the first major advance in meat regulation. In 1996 the agency established the Pathogen Reduction Rule to improve meat inspection. The same year CDC’s PulseNet was born, the nationwide lab network that uses DNA fingerprinting to help identify outbreaks early, along with the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet), an epidemiological system that tracks incidents and trends related to food.

In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Mike Taylor, most recently the former FDA commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, discusses the dramatic change that industry has undergone during the past 25 years, from FSMA to technology advancements to food safety culture.

Food Safety Past, Present and Future at the 2017 Food Safety Consortium: Recognizing the 1993 Jack In the Box E. coli outbreak as the event that propelled the current food safety movement. Mike Taylor, Bill Marler, Esq. and Ann Marie McNamara (Target Corp.), who took the reins from the late David Theno at Jack In the Box, will discuss Theno’s impact on the industry. The session continues through a timeline of the evolution of food safety from 1993 to present, and then the future, where we will cover the IoT, social media, food safety culture and technology. It will be followed by the STOP Foodborne Illness Award Ceremony. Wednesday, November 29, 2017, 4:00–5:30 pm | LEARN MORE

Food Safety Tech: Reflecting on how far the industry has come since the E.coli O157:H7 outbreak involving Jack in the Box in 1993, what key areas of progress have been made since?

Michael Taylor: I think there are very major ones obviously. You have to remember where things were when the Jack-in-the-Box [outbreak] happened. We were in a place where USDA programs said it was not responsible for pathogens in raw meat and that consumers are supposed to cook the product; [and] industry was operating under traditional methods. Microbial methods were typically conducted for quality not for safety; you had the loss of public confidence and a terrible situation in which consumers were pointing at industry, and industry was pointing at consumers, and no one was taking clear responsibility for safety of the product.

Now we are in a completely different environment where not only is there clarity about industry’s responsibility for monitoring pathogens, there’s also been enormous progress by industry to put in place microbial testing, something David Theno pioneered and is now a central part of food safety management systems for meat safety.

Everything has changed.

These [institutional] arrangements exist not only in the meat industry, but now across the whole food industry. There’s the emergence of GFSI taking responsibility for managing the supply chain for food safety, food safety culture taking hold broadly across leading companies in the industry, and FSMA codifying for 80% of the food supply that FDA regulates the principles of risk-based prevention and continuous improvement on food safety.

I think it’s rather dramatic how far the industry’s food safety regulatory system has come since [the] Jack in the Box [outbreak].

FST: How has FSMA helped to align industry priorities?

Michael Taylor FDA
Mike Taylor was on the front lines of change in the meat industry.

Taylor: Let’s focus on the events first leading up to FSMA—for example, the outbreaks or illnesses associated with leafy greens [and] peanut butter, and problems with imported products—those events in the world aligned industry priorities around the need to modernize the food safety laws and to enact FSMA. It was the coming together of industry and consumer interests, and the expert community around the principles of comprehensive risk-based prevention that vaporized into FSMA. Now FSMA is the framework within which companies are organizing their food safety systems in accordance with these modern principles of prevention.

And clearly what’s been codified in FSMA and some of the key elements are becoming organizing principles where industry is aligning our priorities for food safety. Environmental monitoring where that’s an appropriate verification control for a company’s hygiene and pathogen control—that’s clearly a priority that folks are aligning on. The issue of supplier verification for domestic and foreign supply is a priority that has been elevated by FSMA, and so has the whole issue of training and employee capacity, whether it’s in processing facilities or on farms, as well as food safety culture. If you’re going to be effectively preventive you need to deal with the human dimension of your food safety system.

These are examples of ways in which FSMA is aligning industry priorities.

Read the rest of the interview on page 2 (link below).